This week’s parasha (Torah portion) contains a commandment against cross-dressing: “A woman must not put on a man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing;….” (Deut. 22:5) This act, which is considered “abhorrent” in the Torah, is part of a larger set of laws that have to do with improper mixing of categories. In ancient society, those who cross-dressed may have been thought to be seeking out improper sexual relations or trying to deceive others about their true identity. But, today cross-dressing is most often by transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, seeking to not be defined by what society deems a certain gender should wear. At Beth Hillel, we are just beginning to grapple with how we can be more inclusive of gender non-conforming folks who are part of our community. Our Reform Movement adopted a far-reaching resolution on this topic almost a year ago at the biennial URJ convention. In the coming months, you will have an opportunity to learn about and discuss this topic through a Jewish lens—beginning on Yom Kippur and at other times as well. Please join in this important conversation.
The name of this week’s parasha, Shofetim, means judges or magistrates. Much of the parasha is about judicial matters, including a description of what seems to be the first High Court in ancient Israel. In Deut. 17:8-9 we learn that cases that are too “baffling” for lower level judges are to be taken “to the place that God will have chosen” (that is, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and presented to the priests and magistrates there. This is the first mention of what later became the Sanhedrin of 71 judges that functioned like the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. This court ruled on religious and civil matters, appointed the high priests and kings, and authorized decisions to go to war. It even created law and in that way, functioned as a legislative body as well.
In this week’s parasha (Torah portion), Moses reviews the incident of the Golden Calf with the generation waiting to enter the Land of Israel. He notes that he “gripped two tablets and flung them away with both...hands, smashing them before your eyes.” (Deut9:17) Commenting on the word “smashing them” (Va’ashabreim) in Hebrew, the Etz Hayim Torah commentary notes that, in ancient Mesopotamian culture, smashing tablets symbolized the annulment of a contract written thereon. So, Moses’ smashing moment may have had a legal implication, in addition to rage. (Etz Hayim p. 1045) In many cultures, the signing of a contract also involved smashing pottery, sometimes in a fire. Some think that this is why a glass is broken at a Jewish wedding: the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) has just been signed. No one knows for sure the origin of this custom, but we all know that one shouts “Mazal Tov” after the glass is shattered! Thank you all for your good wishes of Mazal Tov as I take next week to prepare for the breaking of the glass and much more at Abby and Zak’s wedding!